Peter, Paul & Mary – Peter, Paul and Mary – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

TUBEY MAGICAL MASTER TAPE SOUND ON BOTH SIDES! We just finished a huge shootout for this album with Gold Labels, Green Labels and even a few later labels, and this EXCEPTIONALLY QUIET Gold Label copy was the Champion… for BOTH SIDES!

Peter, Paul & Mary records live and die by the quality of their midrange reproduction. These are not big-budget, high-concept multi-track recordings. They’re simple, innocent folk songs featuring exquisite vocal harmonies, backed by straightforward guitar accompaniment. If the voices aren’t silky sweet and delicate, while at the same time full-bodied and present, let’s face it — you might as well be listening to something else. (As we say below, the average copy will have you looking for another record to put on.)

The Breath Of Life

Steve Hoffman’s famous phrase is key here: we want to hear The Breath Of Life. If P, P & M don’t sound like living breathing human beings standing right between your speakers, toss yours and buy this copy, because that’s exactly what they sound like here. The TUBEY MAGIC of the MIDRANGE is practically off the scale. Until you hear it like this you almost can’t really even imagine it. It’s a bit disconcerting to hear each and every nuance of their singing reproduced so faithfully.

This is high-rez ’60s style; not phony and forced like so much of what passes for audiophile sound these days, but relaxed and real, as if the recording were doing its best to get out of the way of the music, not call attention to itself. This, to us, is the goal, the prize we must constantly strive to keep our eyes on. Find the music, leave the rest.

Blind Testing — It Works!

When we did the shootout for this album, the listening was done completely blindly; the era of the pressing was kept a secret from our listening crew until the sound had been evaluated. You might have assumed that the best sounding copy would be a Gold Label original — and in this case you’d be correct — but NONE of our other Gold Label copies even came close. Not one. (Which was especially shocking to us considering how many we had paid Collector Quality money for!)

Most of the time the Gold Label Warner Brothers pressings just sound like old records — muddy, dull, veiled, compressed and distorted. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Deja Vu

One of our good customers had this to say about a Hot Stamper pressing he purchased recently:

  Hey Tom,   

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing on the Crosby Still, Nash & Young Deja Vu White Hot stamper A+++ on both sides and absolutely dead quiet. I think It’s a bargain at $800.00. It absolutely trashes my Mofi version into bits and pieces. I don’t even want to mention the Classic records version because it’s painful to listen to. I’m writing up this record today and the Frank Sinatra and Count Basie Live at the Sands tomorrow.

Thanks,

Naz

Naz,

The Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered pressings of Deja Vu are, as you say, practically unlistenable once you know what that record should really sound like, and now that you have a Hot Stamper pressing, you definitely know just how good the record can sound. Demo Disc barely begins to do it justice.

Hey, I was fooled back in the mid-’80s – I used to demonstrate my system with the MoFi Deja Vu! How screwed up is that?

Let’s just say we have made a lot of progress in audio since then. We’ve learned a great deal about record collecting too, practically all of it derived from the thousands of shootouts we’ve conducted over the last twenty years, using tens of thousands of different pressings.

Robert Pincus Reviews Cartridges with Rising Top Ends (+5db at 20kz, Ouch!)

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This kind of explains why all the Lyras sound the way they do. It’s the same thing with Clear Audio. You buy them to get that “sound.”

Sure, they do some great things. Speed often comes with a rising top end, and there’s no dip in the lower highs, which I like.

This kind of response works wonders on old Living Stereo Chet Atkins and Mancini LPs. They’re soft on top!

Don’t play your old Heifetz LPs with one of these.

Robert Pincus

Vivaldi / The Four Seasons – A Sonic Arts Direct to Disc Recording Reviewed in 2009

A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This is a SUPERB sounding Sonic Arts Direct-to-Disc LP with Super Hot Stamper sound on both sides. I gave this one rave reviews twenty years ago (when we could still find them) and I’m happy to see that the sound has held up just fine in the intervening decades. Recorded in a dry acoustic, immediacy and clarity are the sonic strengths of this side one. This is one of the most natural Direct-Disc I’ve heard in a long time. One could easily use it as Demo Disc, depending on your taste and system.

There is wonderful chamber music throughout this LP. It comes as no surprise that it was nominated for two Grammys.

Side One

A++, with a very slight edge to the top of the strings being all that holds it back from a Triple Plus grade. The sound is accurate and real for the room that it was recorded in.

Side Two

A++, this side I liked a bit better, it’s a bit smoother and more relaxed; it sounds as though the mics are not quite as close to the performers on this side. (more…)

The Robert Cray Band – Strong Persuader

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last, this is a superb copy of Strong Persuader – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This is the album that propelled Cray into the mainstream, earning him a spot on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest albums of the 80’s, 5 stars on AMG, and endless accolades from critics and fans alike
  • Clear and open, but still fairly analog sounding, this copy has the right sound for the kind of electric blues Cray brought back from the dead in the ’80s
  • 5 stars: “The set that made Cray a pop star, despite its enduring blues base… his innovative expansion of the genre itself that makes this album a genuine 1980s classic.”

(more…)

Dvorak / Symphony #1 / Kertesz / LSO – A Bit Too Smooth

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CS 6523. This is an IMMACULATE Brand New Unplayed London LP with the old style paste-on back cover. We cracked open the factory seal just to make sure that this was a British pressing.

As we’ve said before, Kertesz is the Dvorak man! He recorded the complete cycle for London; many of those LPs have superb performances and excellent sound.

We dropped the needle momentarily on this title and heard sound that was overly smooth for my taste. If you like your records on the smooth side, this should do the trick.

Tubes Versus Transistors – Some Background from Skeptoid

Below you will find a link to a reasonably fair and balanced look at the battle between transistors and tubes from Brian Dunning’s skeptoid website, daily reading for those of us who favor a skeptical approach to life (and especially this hobby).

Thirty plus years ago, when I started my little record business, I knew that most records marketed to audiophiles offered junk sound (half-speed masters) or junk music (direct to discs). As our playback has improved, fewer and fewer of these “specialty” pressings have survived the test of time, a subject we write about endlessly on our site and here on this blog.

For the longest time our motto has been “Records for Audiophiles, Not Audiophile Records,” and we see no reason to change it.  If anything, the current spate of manufacturers of Heavy Vinyl pressings are making records that get worse sounding by the day. Many of the most egregious offenders can be found here.

More commentaries about Heavy Vinyl can be found here. We are not fans of the stuff, not because it’s our competition. It just doesn’t sound very good.

In order to do the work we do, our approach to audio has to be fundamentally different from that of the audiophile listening for enjoyment. Critical listening and listening for enjoyment go hand in hand, but they are not the same thing.

The first — developing and applying your critical listening skills — allows you to achieve good audio and find the best pressings of the music you love.

Once you have a good stereo and a good record to play on it, your enjoyment of recorded music should increase dramatically.

A great sounding record on a killer system is a thrill.

A Heavy Vinyl mediocrity, played back on what passes for so many audiophile systems these days — regardless of cost — is, to these ears, an intolerable bore.

If this sounds arrogant and elitist, so be it. We set a higher standard, and price our records commensurate with their superior sound.  For those who appreciate the difference, and have resources sufficient to afford them, the cost is reasonable. If it were not we would have gone out of business years ago.

Hot Stampers are not cheap. If the price could not be justified by the better sound quality and quieter surfaces, who in his right mind would buy them? We can’t really be fooling so many audiophiles, can we?

Our approach to equipment and records is explained in more detail below, in a listing centered around an early pressing of a Ted Heath Big Band album from the Fifties that knocked our socks off.  The right record at loud levels on Big Speakers can do that.

 

heath

 

We went wild recently over a marvelous copy of the Ted Heath record you see pictured. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound was positively uncanny. This was vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve upon it.

This is our kind of sound. It’s also important to keep in mind that our stereo seemed to love the record. (Stereos do that.) Let’s talk about why that might be the case.

Our system is fast, accurate and uncolored. We like to think of our speakers as the audiophile equivalent of studio monitors, showing us exactly what is on the record, with nothing added and (hopefully) nothing taken away. (more…)

Letter of the Week – – Kind of Blue

Kind of Blue

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,   

Holy F*CK. Just arrived. Absolutely fantastic! All I can say is wow.

I replied:

Can you believe people take that mediocre MoFi seriously? It’s a joke next to the real thing, as you now know first hand.

And how much better is the +++ version (when they appear)?

Brian E.

Brian,

We just sold a top copy last month, pricey (!) but hearing the record go to another level is a thrill that’s hard to put a price on.

Best, TP

Brian Eno’s Masterpiece – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

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  • TRIPLE TRIPLE (A+++) – it’s been ages since we’ve heard a copy that sounds as amazing as this one
  • Superb Demo Disc sound on both A+++ sides, huge and open like you will not believe
  • The superb clarity and transparency here let you appreciate all of Eno’s mastery — amazing texture and detail
  • 5 stars on Allmusic, a Top 100 title, and without a doubt Eno’s Masterpiece
  • Highest Recommendation from your friends at Better Records. This is an album we think you will love!

TWO SUPERB SIDES on this Killer White Hot Stamper pressing of Brian Eno’s MASTERPIECE — one of my All Time Favorite Albums, a real Demo Disc of twisted pop. This British Sunray original pressing takes the sound to a level BEYOND all others. This copy has deep, punchy bass that exceeded my wildest expectations, energy like I couldn’t believe, and a wonderful smoothness that you just don’t get on most copies.

If you have a big speaker and the kind of high quality playback that is capable of unraveling the most complicated musical creations, with all the weight and power of live music, this is the record that will make all your audio effort and expense worthwhile. That’s the kind of stereo I’ve been working on for thirty years and this album just plain KILLS over here.

Art Rock

That being said, it may not be the kind of thing most music loving audiophiles will be able to make much sense of if they have no history with this kind of Art Rock from the ’70s. I grew up on Roxy Music, 10cc, Eno, The Talking Heads, Ambrosia, Supertramp, Yes and the like, bands that wanted to play rock music but felt shackled by the chains of the conventional pop song. This was and still is my favorite kind of music.

When it comes to the genre, I put this album right at the top of the heap along with several other landmark albums from the period: More Songs About Buildings and Food, Roxy Music’s first, Sheet Music, Crime of the Century, Ambrosia’s first two releases, The Yes Album, Fragile and perhaps a handful of others, no more than that. (more…)

Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

TWO WONDERFUL SIDES, capable of delivering the Nilsson Schmilsson GENIUS in a way few copies out there can! We’re just wild about Harry ’round these parts, but it’s unbelievably difficult to find copies of his albums that sound any good. Beyond that, most of the Nilsson records out there in used record land are noisy, thanks to that super-high-quality RCA Dynaflex vinyl. (Your sarcasm detector should be going off like crazy right about now.)

Ah, but here’s a Nilsson Schmilsson that’s dramatically more audiophile-friendly than other copies.

Harry’s vocals sound great throughout and the overall sound is BIG, present, powerful, spacious, smooth and rich. Side one earned each and every plus of its White Hot Stamper Three Plus (A+++) rating. Folks, that’s shorthand for a copy that’s As Good As It Gets! (more…)